July 13, 2008 -- This roller coaster ride of a movie is kind of a throwback to the 1950s, when 3D movies were first popular. The first-time director, Eric Brevig, a special-effects guru, takes advantage of the 3D format and throws everything, including yo-yos and mean-looking fish at the camera. The startling camera shots in this film remind me of the famous paddle ball shots in “House of Wax” (1953) and other similar in-your-face camera shots in early 3D movies. These kinds of camera shots which call attention to themselves were common in the 1950s, when 3D technology was new. They represent an infatuation with new technology. “Journey to the Center of the Earth” has a similar look to it. 3D movies are not new, but the digital projection technology used to display this film is fairly new. Brevig takes full advantage of this new technology in this playful, entertaining adventure film loosely based on the Jules Verne novel.
The 3D movies made 50 years ago used a synchronized two-projector system that is both expensive and complicated to use. That two-projector setup is similar to the current IMAX 3D projection system. After the dual projector system was largely abandoned due to its high cost, a cheaper one-projector system using an anaglyphic, two-layered, color-coded system requiring special colored glasses (usually cyan and red) came along later, but the 3D was very inferior to the two-projector system. A new system uses a digital projector, a much higher frame rate and two sets of polarized images to create an effective 3D image with a single projector. The new 3D effect looks very similar to the old two-projector method, and it requires the same kind of polarized glasses. Because the new system doesn't require expensive equipment and expensive radio-controlled LED shuttered glasses like some IMAX systems do, and the 3D effect is far superior to the old anaglyph system, it looks like the new 3D system is here to stay.
Brendan Fraser of “The Mummy” movie series stars as Trevor Anderson, a geologist saddled with his nephew Sean Anderson (played by Josh Hutcherson of “The Bridge to Terabithia”) for a week. The two are thrown into an amazing adventure when Trevor finds evidence that his long-missing brother (and Sean's father) was exploring a volcano in Iceland when he disappeared. They go to visit the same volcano, accompanied by a pretty mountain guide, Hannah Ásgeirsson (Anita Briem of “The Tudors” TV series). They are trapped in a cave inside the volcano, which leads them down into a world inside the earth where there are glowing birds, dinosaurs and scary fish that look like giant piranhas. Now all they have to do is figure out how to get back to the surface of the earth.
The world inside the world is amazing. In addition to the dinosaurs and scary fish, there are giant mushrooms, luminous clouds and magnetic rocks that float in the air. The group builds a kind of parasailing rig to power their raft across an underground ocean. The group also takes a hair-raising ride on old mining carts inside an abandoned mine (the kind of mine seen only in movies). The story is not even remotely believable, but the movie is fun to watch, thanks largely to Brendan Frasier, who knows just how to handle this kind of tongue-in-cheek comedic action film. The 3D effect is very good in the film. I jumped a few times when things seem to come flying right at me out of the screen. The rollercoaster ride in the mine was also a little unsettling. I don't know if this movie would be nearly as good when seen in regular old 2D. Since relatively few theaters are equipped to show 3D movies, most people will see a 2D print of this film, too bad. In 3D, this film rates a B.
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